Tom Davis first met Johnny Orr back in the 1950s. Davis was the star point guard at Wisconsin-Platteville, Orr the head boys’ basketball coach at Dubuque Senior High School.
“We played a game in Dubuque one night, and Johnny came in the locker room and asked coach (John) Barth how he could learn our offense,” Davis recalled. “Coach Barth called me over and introduced me to him.”
Their paths crossed many times after that, including in retirement while attending many of the same golf outings and charity events.
Davis ended up the winningest coach at Iowa. Orr, who died Tuesday, became the winningest coach at Michigan and Iowa State.
“We had some good battles, but it was never personal,” said Davis, who last saw Orr in July at an event in Marshalltown. “He did such a good job developing that whole atmosphere at Iowa State. I always thought that if (Hilton Coliseum) wasn’t the toughest place to play, it was one of the toughest because of the atmosphere he helped create there.”
Davis was at his second coaching job, at Portage High School in Portage, Wis., when he crossed paths with Orr again. Johnny was an assistant coach at Wisconsin. Davis was attending summer school at Wisconsin, where he would earn a master’s degree.
“They used to host all the high school basketball coaches who were there in summer school,” Davis said. “They had a smoker. Johnny would run it, and he was terrific with the high school coaches, as you can imagine. He did such a great a job.”
Years later, when Davis was the head coach at Boston College and Orr the head coach at Michigan, they crossed paths again.
“Johnny helped me get a real key player for us,” Davis said. “A kid (John Garris) who had been playing for Michigan and wanted to transfer. I called Johnny, having known him. (Orr) said, ‘You want him?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You can have him.’”
Davis was at a gathering of coaches who endorsed Pro-Keds shoes before the 1980-81 season. Orr was also there, along with Louisville coach Denny Crum and others. Orr told them about a telephone call he had just taken from Iowa State, in search of a new coach. Orr’s assistant, Bill Frieder, was on the Cyclones’ radar.
“He was building it up for Frieder, so he could get him more money,” Davis said. “They quoted him the figure and Johnny said, ‘Gee, I might be interested in the job.’”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball